Text size

For several months Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked to persuade Israelis and the international community of his sincere longing for the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. He repeatedly stressed that Israel is ready at any time to talk to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas without preconditions, and each time he presented Abbas as the sworn rejectionist.

But on the eve of the renewed talks, born only after political torment and tribulation, it turns out that the term “preconditions” has a variety of interpretations. For example, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, including Israeli citizens, in exchange for “slowing down” construction over the Green Line. As a result, Abbas rescinded his demand that negotiations begin with the issue of borders, and agreed to Netanyahu’s demand to discuss all the core issues as they are raised. Abbas also refrained from demanding that Israel pledge not to build in the territories during the negotiations, and thus removed another obstacle that Netanyahu had put there to stop the talks before they began.

But Netanyahu’s far-reaching interpretation of the term “no preconditions” pushes the envelope of Palestinian understanding. The urgency with which approval was given for plans to build hundreds of housing units in the territories, and the announcement of the construction of hundreds of new units in East Jerusalem, are not the result of the immediate need for roofs over the heads of the homeless. They seem to represent the hope for a targeted assassination of the opening of the peace talks after every other effort to stop them has failed. These steps, which have already led to a sharp American rebuke, lift the fog in which Netanyahu has tried to cloak his true intentions. They present Israel, under his leadership, as the one rejectionist of every diplomatic process.

Viewing the negotiations that are to open tomorrow as another opportunity that must be missed, Netanyahu is leading Israel with eyes wide open into a minefield, in which not only relations with the Palestinians will be damaged, but also those with the United States. The latter could join in the punitive measures the European Union has imposed on Israel, and thus complete Israel’s circle of international isolation.

The government must immediately stop this double political game and overcome the conditioned reflex by which every time talks come near, it responds with real estate violence. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who spoke specifically about the vital need for negotiations, must use his political power against any construction beyond what was agreed to with the Americans. The other coalition partners must allow the talks to take their first steps and begin the journey to the end of the conflict with the Palestinians.